Report from Louisiana: #AmReading

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Sick of politics?  Tired of reading about the coronavirus?  There are some great new book releases coming out this month that you should check out. One’s a mystery, one is chick-lit, and one is a classic collection of essays: something for everyone!

First, Michael Connelly is back with his Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller. The Law of Innocence is Haller at his best as he is apparently framed for a murder and then must defend himself in court….from jail. We have all the familiar characters that we’ve come to know and love in a Haller story: Lorna, Cisco, and even Harry Bosch lends a hand. The frame against Haller looks pretty airtight and Connelly keeps you guessing all the way to the end.

I love Michael Connelly because as prolific as he is, his stories never get stale or predictable. The Law of Innocence comes out November 10.

Also coming out on the tenth is a chick-lit romp in The First Time We Met by Jo Lovett. Sometimes you just need something light and meaningless and while I don’t read a lot of chick-lit, I did review this one for NetGalley and enjoyed it. Izzy is our protagonist; she meets Sam on his wedding day and of course he is the one and only for her. The novel covers decades and is set on two continents, but Izzy and Sam remain linked. There are the obligatory best-friend characters that add to the mix. Predictable? Sometimes. Fun? Yep.  If chick-lit is your thing, check this one out.

On a more serious note, The Glorious American Essay comes out November 17, and is edited by Phillip Lopate. This is truly one I have got to have on my shelves in my personal collection. It includes essays from Colonial times to the present. Here you can find essays from the Founding Fathers, Thoreau, John Muir, Rachel Carson, Annie Dillard, to name a few. It’s a beautiful collection and is perhaps the definitive collection of the American essay. I absolutely loved this one and will probably give it for Christmas to several people on my list.

I recently finished reading Kerri Arsenault’s Mill Town and I highly recommend it as well. It is part memoir and part investigation into what is causing high cancer rates in her Maine hometown. The obvious culprit is the paper mill and the dioxin it produces. Arsenault has a quiet, gentle “voice” and her diligent, prodding investigation runs from local interviews with townsfolk to the DEQ basement archives. I was engrossed in this one from beginning to end.

What are you reading? I need recommendations! Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Hodgepodge

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Some loose thoughts from Louisiana this morning.

STORMS: Hurricane Delta blew through Acadiana last week, making landfall in the community of Creole, Louisiana in Cameron Parish, less than twenty miles from where Hurricane Laura hit six weeks ago.

When I tell you that people in that part of the state are weary of storms, well, that barely touches how weary they are.

Across Acadiana right now, there are of course trees down all over the place, families are displaced, power is being restored, and linemen are working long, long hours. Overhead video from Lake Charles before Hurricane Delta hit showed a huge percentage of the homes there covered in blue tarps. After Delta, tarps have been blown all over the place, debris piles blown all over the place, and power is out once again across the city. It’s just bedlam.

That being said, communities are pulling together; this is not their first rodeo and they will all rebuild and survive. But please, no more storms for a while.

COVID: Covid is not done with Louisiana. Our hospitalization numbers are rising again, but are still nowhere near where they were over the summer. Little outbreaks are popping up in schools – go figure. At the high school where I teach, the entire football team is in quarantine along with five coaches. But, who didn’t see that coming, right?

Experts expect numbers to climb again as cooler weather moves in, and some believe all of this hurricane displacement and movement has contributed to rising numbers. People in shelters and whatnot.

Around town, here in Shreveport, we are still under Governor Edwards mask mandate, but I’m seeing a lot of mask-fatigue. One popular diner in town is simply not using masks. None of the employees are wearing them. Ever. Yet people keep eating there, so they are apparently not concerned about it.

Last week, Governor Edwards extended Phase 3 until November 6. Some are calling it Phase 2.5 because it is still pretty strict.

BOOKS: I’ve been reading like a madwoman, and my taste in books is all over the place. I’m one of those people that will read several books at once. I read on NetGalley a lot, and write reviews for publishers for books that are not yet released.

Currently, I’m reading Michael Connelly’s The Law of Innocence (November 20, 2020) and it’s really good; typical Connelly, very tight, very suspenseful. It’s one of the Haller mysteries. It’s everything you want in a Connelly book.

I just finished Margreet’s Harbor by Eleanor Morse (April, 2021). This is a beautifully written, evocative novel that will make you wish you could call your mother one more time.

When Margreete sets her kitchen on fire, Liddie realizes her mother can no longer live alone. Liddie uproots her family and they all move in with Margreete in her coastal Maine home. The novel covers nearly two decades; we watch Liddie’s children grow up, we track the ups and downs of Liddie’s career and marriage, and we fall in love with Margreete.

Eleanor Morse is adept in writing from the perspective of a frustrated husband, a thirteen-year old boy, and a dementia addled woman. All are equally engaging and convincing. We are drawn into the family dramas and are touched by the sweet moments such as when daughter Gretchen can’t bear to hear the neighbor’s mother cow lowing mournfully for her separated calf.  Morse’s writing is never heavy-handed, always on point, and lovely in its simplicity. I really enjoyed this one.

I also read The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams (April 2021). It is historical fiction set in Oxford and follows Esme who we meet under the sorting table at the Scriptorium where her father works as part of the team compiling the Oxford English Dictionary. Esme’s mother is dead, and she and her father have a loving, nurturing relationship. The Scriptorium is a shed of corrugated iron in the garden of the home of Sir James Murray, team leader. Esme is fascinated with words and as one word, bondmaid, flutters to the ground, Esme scoops it into her pocket and a lifetime of collecting lost words begins.

The novel is populated with rich, well developed characters. I loved Lizzie, a “bondmaid” in the Murray home, and Mabel, from the market. Tilda and her brother Bill, both irascible, are intriguing characters; Tilda becomes deeply involved in the women’s suffrage movement and Esme flutters around the edges, resisting Tilda’s attempts to become more radical.

We follow Esme from childhood to womanhood and the Dictionary follows pace. Esme remains fascinated with words and collects “lost words” that never make it into the dictionary. We experience her joys and her heartbreaks and more than once I found myself crying with Esme and celebrating her joys. This is a book to be savored.

Not to leave out nonfiction, I’m reading a 2009 book, Last Days of Last Island by Bill Dixon which tells the story of the monster 1856 hurricane that obliterated a popular barrier island on the Louisiana Gulf Coast which was the summer playground for sugar planters, important politicians and businessmen. It’s well researched and the narrative structure reads much like a David McCullough book. 

Me and my stack of books are packing up tomorrow and heading to Acadiana to sit on the bayou for a week and recharge. I won’t be paying attention to any confirmation hearings, presidential races, or anything at all for five days. Glorious!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: a Book Review

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — I’ve just finished reading a beautiful novel that I want to share with you. As like probably many of you, I’m an avid reader with a pretty diverse interest range. I read a lot of nonfiction, literary fiction, women’s fiction, historical fiction…pretty much anything. Not a big fan of romance, but I do like a good mystery.

The End of the Day by Bill Clegg is a stunning new novel coming out September 29 and is available for pre-order on Amazon. The story takes a while to unfold — don’t get impatient. It’s worth the journey. Told from the POV of various characters, we are slowly pulled in, woven in, to this complex plot line of intersecting lives. Just how they intersect is not immediately clear.

The main characters are Jackie, Dana, and Lupita. Three women of different social class: Dana is wealthy and privileged, Jackie is middle-class, and Lupita working class. Lupita’s family works for Dana’s family who is sponsoring them for a green card; Jackie and Dana are childhood friends. The story is set in the framework of a single day yet covers sixty years and Clegg weaves this intricate plot one thread at a time.

The prose is lyrical and more than once I found myself reaching for a notebook to write down a line simply because it was so evocative and beautiful. Symbolic elements abound without being overpowering. This is the kind of novel you read slowly in order to absorb every detail and I was sorry when it ended.

This is the first Bill Blegg novel for me but now I’m going to go back and read his other work, both fiction and nonfiction: Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, and Did you Ever Have a Family, among others.

Add this book to your reading list; if you like solid, beautiful literary fiction, this is a good one.